Micah was the 2013 Woodlawn High School valedictorian, and he earned a full academic scholarship to AP Cornerstone MemberSamford University. He just wrapped up his first semester, and said he expected no less than As and Bs.
We asked Micah what Blueprints meant to him. He said Blueprints demystified the college application and financing processes and showed him going to college “is possible. You can do it.”
Ever focused on the future, Micah also said he would like to serve as a Blueprints college mentor.
“You have to go back and help others…that’s the way the world is set up,” he said.
The 40 Blueprints College Access Initiativestudents attended college classes, explored the historic campus, enjoyed lunch in Anna Irvin Dining Hall, and talked with faculty and students about the college experience.
MHS alumnus Dr. Jim Day welcomed the students to campus and shared his personal journey from high school to military, college, and career as a UM history professor. Student Government Association members Rachael Swokowski and Shelby Mays also spoke to the students about their pathways to college.
Many students had graduated from the Blueprints early awareness program as 9th graders. The 11th graders focused on specific details of the decisions they are making about their futures, including upcoming financial aid and college application deadlines.
Christina Morris was the Montevallo Blueprints valedictorian when she was a freshman. After completing the college coaching program, Christina said that “as you go through life, you have to forge your own path, even though sometimes you have to go it alone.”
Mentor Ashley Humphrey, a Mass Communications major, said one of the lessons she learned was that “to get respect, you have to treat others with respect.”
The field trip concluded with a graduation ceremony to celebrate the students’ completion of the Blueprints college coaching curriculum. Kirklynn Hamby, who completed the most independent enrichment activities during the semester, won $50 to celebrate her achievements.
APP’s Blueprints College Access Initiative sponsoring FAFSA completion events in Chilton, Franklin, Perry, and Shelby Counties.
University of Montevallo Financial Aid Officers Kim Miller and Maria Parker, Blueprints Mentor Ashley Humphrey, AmeriCorps*VISTA Courtney Bennett, Blueprints Mentor Darlena Garner, Blueprints Program Coordinator Hannah Selles, and Blueprints Volunteer Jay Causey at a FAFSA completion event in Montevallo.
FAFSA completion helps students and their families access federal and most state financial support, including grants, scholarships, the lowest-cost student loans and work-study opportunities. Studies show that 9 out of 10 students who complete the FAFSA go on to postsecondary education.
Blueprints held FAFSA completion events in February in Birmingham, Marion, Montevallo, and Phil Campbell. We are working with Judson College, Northwest-Shoals Community College and the University of Montevallo on intensive efforts in Chilton, Franklin, Perry, and Shelby Counties. Over the next month we will host additional FAFSA completion events, provide individual assistance, and host FAFSA follow- up events where professionals and volunteers will help students and their families interpret financial aid packages offered by postsecondary institutions.
Blueprints works to increase educational attainment and create a college-going culture in the state. Alabama ranks 44th in educational attainment, which is closely liked to personal and economic well-being.
If you are an educator, parent or student at a public high school in Chilton, Franklin, Perry or Shelby Counties and would like to host a FAFSA completion event or need assistance with completing the FAFSA or interpreting aid awards please contact us at 205.939.1408.
Taylor Bell is a senior sociology major at APP Cornerstone Member Samford University. He is a native of Louisville, Kentucky and is in his fourth year volunteering as a tutor and mentor with APP Faith Partner Baptist Church of the Covenant’s Leadership Southtown program.
We recently sat down with Taylor for an introductory conversation. Here’s what he had to say:
You are in the final semester of your career at Samford. Why did you choose to study sociology?
“I chose sociology because of my genuine passion for understanding both society and how we as individuals find our place within it. Coupled with my passion for justice and equality, I find sociology a means to further understanding why society is structured the way it is, and most important how we can fix it. The ‘human element’ is always presenting us with new opportunities of study.”
How did you get involved with Alabama Possible?
“I got involved with Alabama Possible because I needed an internship for my spring semester. I found out about APP and connected to the staff through Mrs. Cassandra Adams, the Director of Cumberland School of Law’s Mediation Center and Public Interest Project. I pursued the opportunity to intern at APP because I believe in their mission of combating systemic poverty.”
You have lived in Birmingham for four years now. What are some of your favorite places in the city?
“I love Saw’s BBQ, especially the one in Avondale. I also enjoy Urban Standard or O’Henry’s for a cup of coffee and Mountain Brook for a good run.”
Are you reading any books right now?
“I just finished Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith for my ‘Theories of Faith Development’ course. Tillich’s premise is that faith is central to who we are; no one can be faithless.”
What is your favorite movie?
“It is a tie between ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘The Soloist.’”
What is one issue in Birmingham that you would like to see changed?
“The huge disparities among the Birmingham metro area’s public schools.”
In 2013, the Alabama Poverty Project will continue to highlight individuals in the Alabama Possible movement whose work affects change in the dynamics of poverty in our state. Our January spotlight features Blueprints College Access Initiative Mentor, Ariel Smith, a sophomore in our higher education partner UAB’s Global and Community Leadership (GCL) Honors Program. Ariel recently shared with APP staff what her involvement with the Blueprints program has meant in her own life and how the experience has shaped her personal and vocational goals for the future.
Ariel Smith, a Human Resources Major at UAB, first learned about Blueprints in her freshman Exploring Birmingham course taught by APP Executive Director Kristina Scott.
“I had made it very clear in our class discussions that my area of interest would be poverty and education,” said Ariel.
Today, Ariel leads the UAB mentors at Woodlawn High School and said she is “addicted” to the work.
Ariel is a Birmingham native. She was raised in a low-income, single-parent household and graduated from Cornerstone Academy and John Carroll High School. Ariel said she values the chance to extend a hand to students with whom she shares a background, but who might not have the same resources and relationships she had.
“We give them testimonies. We connect them with people they do not have in their families, they do not have in their neighborhood, and they are desperately looking to see. And for me, I’m a chance to be that image of a person that they either want to meet or want to become,” she said.
Ariel’s leadership with Blueprints also impacted her personal goals.
“Blueprints made me try to define where I wanted to go. I’ve realized that I can make an impact on education not so much by always being in the classroom, but on the administrative side. There is legislation that has to be passed, budgets that have to be allocated properly, and people that have to provide basic leadership training and development, where a person with a human resources background can be very helpful,” she said.
Ariel has decided to pursue a Masters of Public Administration after finishing her undergraduate studies at UAB and intends to pursue a career in education policy.
In order to maximize your investment in improving college access, this Fall APP’s Blueprints College Access Initiative launched a new college-coaching program at three Birmingham high schools: Woodlawn, Jackson-Olin and Holy Family Cristo Rey.
College-prep coaches encourage student access and persistence through a combination of ACT prep, career and college planning, and assistance for families in completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
“My mentor Devante Smith . . . guided me on how to go about getting financial aid, scholarships, and grants. I now have a different approach about going to college thanks to you all,” said Jessie Paul, a junior at Jackson-Olin High School.
Here are the results from our first semester:
82 10-12th grade students participated in college coaching activities,
Seniors have completed 30 college applications,
29 students have registered and are currently preparing to take the ACT, and
10 students are completing scholarship applications.
Blueprints mentors from both NWSCC chapters of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society planned and hosted the campus visit for 22 10th graders. The PCHS students visited history, nursing, sociology, English, and machine shop courses throughout the morning. Afterwards, many students said they learned something new about their intended major while observing the lectures. One student who attended the machine shop course proudly showed off his handiwork, a medallion emblazoned with his football jersey number.
PCHS Sophomore Breeona Baker said that she wants to work in a health care field because “I have always enjoyed helping people . . . I have all of the skills and desires to stay on task and achieve my dreams.”
Breeona was named the Phil Campbell Blueprints valedictorian by earning the most points for her Blueprints portfolio by completing extra-curricular assignments with the help of her teachers, parents and mentors.
PTK officers from the NWSCC’s Muscle Shoals campus led workshops on resume building, professional interview skills, and etiquette. Students then created their own resumes.
Dr. Humphrey Lee, NWSCC president and APP board member, added to the excitement about college when he awarded students who successfully completed the Fall 2012 Blueprints program a scholarship for three credit hours at NWSCC. This scholarship can be added to the Spring 2012 three-credit Blueprints scholarship for a total of six credit hours.
As Dr. Lee said, the students “have money in the bank.”
Dr. Lee also announced a special Leadership Scholarship Essay Contest available only to Phil Campbell Blueprints students who submit essays on what the Blueprints program has meant to them and why they desire to continue their education at Northwest-Shoals Community College. The winner will receive a half-tuition, renewable scholarship to NWSCC.
Thanks to APP Higher Education partner Northwest-Shoals Community College, Dr. Lee, Nora Lee, and members of the two NWSCC Phi Theta Kappa chapters for their leadership.
More than 200 ninth graders in seven north and central Alabama high schools will participate in the Blueprints early-awareness mentoring program during the fall semester. With guidance from more than 50 college student mentors, ninth graders build a portfolio with personalized activities and resources for accessing financial aid, exploring careers and colleges, and acquiring academic and soft skills. The ninth grade program culminates in a focused field trip to a university campus.
Blueprints Program Coordinator Hannah Selles trains Hillcrest High School mentors at The University of Alabama.
To build on our ninth graders’ successes, we are launching work with 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. Beginning this month, Blueprints college-prep coaches will encourage student access and persistence through a combination of ACT prep, career and college planning, and financial aid assistance for families.Blueprints launched in Spring 2009 with just 30 ninth graders at Holt High School and a handful of mentors from The University of Alabama Honors College. Over the past four years, Blueprints has blossomed to serve nearly 400 ninth graders and engage more than 100 college students as mentors.
Want to get involved with Blueprints? Here’s how:
Organize college visits with local high school students; email Hannah Selles to get started.
Become a mentor. Connect with Blueprints programs currently underway in Tuscaloosa (at the University of Alabama), Marion (through Judson College), Montevallo (at the University of Montevallo) and Birmingham (at UAB, Birmingham Southern, and Samford University); email Elizabeth Clark to find out more.
Thank you to the Belk Foundation, the Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation, BBVACompass, the Daniel Foundation of Alabama, and the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens for their generous support of our work.
On July 24, nearly 70 higher education faculty, staff, students and community partners gathered at APP’s Birmingham office for our Summer Higher Education Alliance Workshop “Developing a Long-Term Vision to Unlock Alabama’s Potential.”